In Somalia, during the worst of the civil war and famine, relief agencies and their workers risked their lives to distribute food. Some were killed and many were wounded. In the case of Bosnia, and despite UN Security Council resolutions, intergovernmental promises to deliver resources to civilian populations remained unfulfilled. The delivery of supplies was left largely to humanitarian agencies. Relief workers had to cross military lines, negotiate checkpoints, and do everything necessary to the delivery of supplies.
Traditionally nations send soldiers to carry out the duties of war, including preserving civilian populations under dangerous conditions. Increasingly nations, acting through the UN and the international community, allow relief workers to act as their centurions instead of sending soldiers to protect civilians caught up in war or unending violence. The recognized weaknesses of UN relief agencies make all the more incredible the international community's insistence that UN and nongovernmental relief agencies do what soldiers are supposed to do, that citizens should be put in harms way before soldiers.
UN agencies are unable to deal with humanitarian crises in ambiguous political situations arising out of war or internal disorder. They are usually understaffed in the field, underfinanced and sometimes insufficiently zealous. Such shortcoming are inherent in the nature of UN bodies.